About Me

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BLOG REVAMP! I am moving to Arizona and starting a new job as a 5th grade teacher in Phoenix with 65% ELL, 95% Hispanic population, and almost 100% living below the poverty line. I hope all are still interested in hearing my wonderings as I begin my career in my own classroom.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Window

I can't sleep, so I started to think. There is a very important yet often overlooked window of opportunity that each teacher has to make an effect on the lives of her students. Because (think about it) how often did you think about your 2nd grade teacher after 2nd grade? He or she was your idol for one hundred and eighty days. You brought gifts, drew pictures, and modeled yourself after your teacher. They can do no wrong. But to only have this power for one school year? What if you screw it up? You never know the lasting effect that each word, look, sigh, and laugh can have on a student you are teaching. It is a gift to have this opportunity, but forces teachers to wield a large amount of swaying power in every child's life that they come in contact with. I want to have that window of opportunity to make a difference, but how do you make sure you're doing it right?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hissing Cockroaches, Day 1

It's pretty great, the reaction you get from nineteen 8 year olds when you pull out a bunch of creepy crawly bugs. Not to mention, they're four inches long and hiss! Despite the fact that I had a really hard time sleeping last night (having dreams that they were escaping from their cage and into my bed) I was still really excited to bring them into class today for my lesson. Things went mainly according to plan, in my eyes. From the cockroaches' perspective, I think they had a pretty shitty day.

We filled out an observation sheet, where students recorded observations about the roaches' eyes, nose, mouth, legs, exoskeleton, movement, and size. They hypothesized about how the cockroaches were able to hiss, and drew a labeled diagram of one of the bugs. We had one girl who was squeamish (to say the least) but I have to give her a lot of credit for staying within a few feet of the creatures. Overall, a pretty great success! Day 2 on Thursday!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to make them care? No, not the students...

After attending the district-wide math night at Mount Nittany Middle School on Wednesday evening, I came to realize the truth of what one of my instructors told us at the beginning of the PDS program: that you always want the crazy parents, the ones that will be annoying, involved, and in your face, rather than the parents that don’t give you any trouble.

This was hard for me to understand at first, because obviously I want parents that will support me as a teacher and not make my job more difficult. But when I saw that there were ten parents at the math night out of about 9,000 students that are enrolled in the district, I realized that being involved in any way is better than not making an effort at all. 

This district has had a lot of uproar over the math program that is in place. We teach math conceptually, showing why rather than only how. Parents have understandably had difficulties with this new program, due to the fact that it is very different than how they were taught (and I was taught.) 

However, I thought that giving an opportunity for parents to learn, ask questions, and debate the math curriculum with over 20 teachers, administrators, and principals would be something to jump at. It turns out, there were more math stations set up than there were parents attending. Why is this so enraging? I understand that people are busy, and that things come up, but if your child is learning math in a totally foreign way and you are angry about it, shouldn’t you try to find out more about it? Or maybe get some resources that will help you understand it? 

Obviously, I am not qualified to speak as a parent or a teacher. But as someone who will be a teacher very soon, I can’t believe how difficult this makes my job. If parents don’t agree with what you’re doing, you can offer options to help them, but it’s still totally up to them whether they take advantage of the options or not. How am I supposed to make them care?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First job application!

I applied for Teach For America today. It's a crazy feeling, knowing that I potentially could have a place to go next year! Although I'm definitely not sure if this is what I want to do, or even if I'll get an interview, it's great to get the job hunt process started. The initial application included basic information, a resume, and a letter of intent, among a few other things.

My top 5 region preferences:
Greater New Orleans
Las Vegas Valley
Las Angeles
Mississippi River Delta

There's no rhyme or reason for my region choices, I just want to go somewhere new and somewhere I'll be needed. I'll keep updates posted!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sprinting a marathon on a balance beam

The reason why I say that teaching is a marathon, is because it is a long, 180 day journey, and doesn’t exactly come to a neat conclusion during the summer months, with preparation, planning, and professional development thrown in. You have to push yourself not only through the entire year but through the entire day. When you trip halfway through the marathon and cut your leg, you have to keep going. This is not an optional marathon. You are the chosen one to lead your kiddos to victory. No matter where you are mentally, whether you fought with a friend all weekend, didn’t get much sleep, or found out that you got rejected from a program and your scholarship was revoked, you have to have tunnel vision and block it all out. Because anything that sneaks in, your kiddos will notice.

The reason why I say that teaching is sprinting a marathon, is because you have to be quickly, precisely, and fluently changing plans, modifying lessons, and allowing for flexibility. It’s all about the speed and the pure adrenaline that pushes you farther. After grading 120 papers, having been told by your class that you aren’t their favorite teacher (and that your hair is messy) and that your order didn’t come back from the print shop (while you needed it today) you as the ‘sprinting a marathon’ teacher are pushed to the falling point. The breaking point where you are gasping for your last breath with desperation, only to realize that you have no choice, you have to continue on and do everything. And do it well.

Sprinting on a balance beam for a 180-day marathon is the cumulative description of my profession. So many people depend on you (students) you have to please so many others (parents, administrators, peers) while balancing a home life (roommates, family, others) and your day-to-day responsibilities (laundry, grocery shopping, dentist appointments) that the balancing act of holding your sanity until the end is an indescribable feat.

I don’t know how millions of teachers do it every day. I do know why though. Because it’s the best, most selfless, most changing and growing and learning profession in the world....and for the select few that do it, props to you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

link for massai dancing!


Try it yourself!

I was showing a video about the Massai jumping dance (youtube it!)to my classroom while my mentor teacher stepped out of the room, and suddenly I heard some giggling and mimicking from students at the front of the classroom. Others followed suit, and suddenly the whole class was in an uproar.

Since we are studying Africa, this video was a great way to represent the Kenyan Massai people's culture and dance. However, my 8 year old students thought that their 'costumes' and 'silly jumping' was a joke. I gave them a few words of caution to be respectful, but let it go for the time and continued playing the videos I had planned to show.

When my mentor came back in, we decided to take it a little further. Describing the athleticism of the Massai dances, we spoke of the incredible talent it takes to complete a dance like this. We also talked about how important it was to their culture.

But most importantly, we made them jump. And after thirty seconds, they were gasping for air, collapsing on the floor, and saying how cool it was that the Massai people were able to jump so high and for so long. Teachable moments make me :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

ms. allen, i don't have a culture

When my mentor had to leave early on Monday for a meeting, I conducted a social studies read-aloud and discussion with a sub also in the room. It went very well. We were taking our time on each page to point out the wildlife (it was a book about the baobab tree) and discuss ideas. We talked about how the native people name each individual baobab with a specific name that always starts with ‘um’ meaning mother. At this point, we talked about how unique this was and I noted that the people’s culture was different than ours. 

I then realized that perhaps not all of my students understood what culture meant. We started discussing what my students thought culture was. They didn’t really have any ideas, so I explained that a person’s culture had to do with how they lived, what they ate, what kind of music and dancing they liked, their religion, and many other different factors. I explained that everyone was part of a certain culture and that there were many cultures in the world. Obviously, I was flailing to come up with a wholesome definition for culture, but I thought I at least gave them an idea. However, one boy’s hand shot up and he declared “I don’t have a culture. Some people don’t have one. Me and my mom and my dad choose not to have a culture.”

I was silenced. What in the world do you say to a child who thinks they don’t have a culture?! He felt very strongly about it, so I didn’t want to contradict him, but I also wanted to make sure the rest of the class understood what culture was. AHHH! All I did was nod my head and try to explain a little better what culture was, but then decided I would probably just confuse everyone more. We moved on to talk about bugs and birds, and boy was I relieved. I wonder if every teacher has those moments where you don’t really know what to say or how to react. Helppppppppp!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Non-idealistic Survival Guide for Teachers: A Comprehensive List

After four weeks, I think that I've compiled a basic (to be expanded at a later date) list of what teachers need to know and be able to do to be successful. List follows.

1. Pretend you know exactly what you are doing at all times.
2. When you need extra time to figure something out, say you're waiting for a respectful audience.
3. Pack delicious snacks to get you through the morning.
4. Pack delicious lunches to get you through the afternoon.
5. Become best friends with people that will be able to help you in the future (librarians, secretaries.)
6. Know how to give the heartbreaking "I am disappointed with you" look to your class.
7. Always have an extra $.75 on you for that emergency bag of Cheetos or Hershey bar.
8. Make one of your classroom rules "Keep your teachers happy."
9. Realize that you will never accomplish everything you plan to accomplish on any given day.
10. When you make a mistake (like a misspelling on the board, or say the name of the wrong country)   just tell the class you were only checking to see if they were paying attention. (thank you Cheryl!)
10. Check the faculty lounge often for the occasional baked goods left in there for the taking.
11. When in dire straits, just send your class to the computer lab and give them a good challenging math game. Oh, and instead of helping them, just say it's an activity that teaches them perseverance and independence. Chances are, they won't know what that means, and will keep working without help from you.

... I'm only half kidding. Or maybe only one-fourth kidding.

Monday, September 20, 2010

hey, let's learn the prescramble for constitution day!

So many parts of this lesson sounded like a great idea. Using the Constitution, on Constitution Day, to give our students a sense of pride for their country, as well as to set the stage for our own "Room 82 Class Constitution." So, of course, we set up the entire lesson. We are going to go over the Preamble in detail, talk about what it means for our country, learn to sign it in some skewed version of American Sign Language (which I am mortified to admit) and then listen to the Schoolhouse Rock Preamble jingle! Perfect. Except not. First, you should take a look at this link. So if you managed to get through all three minutes and nineteen seconds of it, you'd find that the last sixty seconds are devoted to some Elvis-clone dancing and singing. I told the kids it was a commercial.

Not to mention, third graders aren't really familiar with about 70% of the words in our Constitution's preamble. Establish, justice, insure, secure, tranquility, domestic, promote, welfare, posterity, etc. And even if they do have a general understanding of the meaning of the words, it didn't help that I painstakingly chose the version of the Preamble jingle with lyrics, because third graders most definitely cannot read those words! As I stood in front of the classroom trying to convince myself that this was a success (it's music, after all, kids love music) I realized that at least we are trying. At least we are trying to introduce new words and concepts that are more upper level, because we are challenging them to reach upward. Later, we had our students get into groups of four or five and brainstorm ideas for our "Room 82 Constitution." Despite my doubts, it turned out pretty ingeniously.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Single Best Thing

Of course you would expect that my statement will be a rousing, enthused discourse on the beauty of children learning, the fulfillment you feel after a successful lesson, or maybe even how much you learn while you are teaching the little nuggets what they should know as third graders. But no, today I speak of something much more tangible. Tangible, sometimes edible, sometimes a shoulder to cry on. What could I possibly be talking about?

The single best thing about teaching is the faculty lounge and faculty bathroom. Yeah, I said it. The simplest thing you would never realize could make such a big difference in a teacher's sanity. I have to say that when I step in the roomy faculty bathroom, lock the door, and look in the full-length mirror to adjust my dress, not only do I feel like a total badass, but I have those 3-5 socially acceptable minutes where I can cry, laugh, sit and stare sullenly, or just wash my face. Even better, there is a little cabinet for women to put such feminine necessities (sorry, boys) that are so much more comforting than the metal "25c gards" dispenser that you would be stuck using instead.

But I haven't even gotten to the lounge. Thanks to a generous principal, we have a Keurig coffee maker which, if you don't know what it is, please just go buy one and be amazed. There are cute mugs with hearts and bears on them, comfy chairs, recipes that have been shared magnetized to the refrigerator, silverware for common use, and (best of all) chocolates available for cheap purchase for those days when you just won't make it without a Reese's cup.

I could go on, but I think everyone gets the picture of how faculty bathrooms/lounges save the lives of elementary school teachers every. single. day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Live with Flair: Draw Out Your Inner Teacher

Live with Flair: Draw Out Your Inner Teacher: "The Latin root of the verb educate means 'to draw out' or 'bring forth.' Teachers illuminate the subject matter, but they also bring some..."

Saturday, September 11, 2010


this is why my life is so stressful.

goooood morning vietnam!

I took the time this week to greet my students as they came in the room in the morning and when they would come back from specials or lunch. I made it a priority to call the students by name, give a smile, and ask a question, give a compliment, or help them out with something. Most of the time, the students seemed surprised that I was so energetic and excited to see them.
It is interesting to look at school and teachers from the perspective of a student. They are required to be there, with teachers they did not choose, classmates they did not pick, and academic content that they have no control over. I suppose it is understandable that students come into the room in the morning and claim that they are tired or bored, and I also suppose that it is the exception to the rule to get a big smile back and a hug in return for my greeting.
However, I noticed that as I continually showed my excitement and interest in their lives, I would get more and more return from each child. They wanted to see me in the morning, get a greeting, and it actually seemed to make them be more eager to please the teachers as the day went on. I noticed that after my greetings this week, the students became more comfortable asking me academic questions than they were before. I will definitely be continuing to greet them in such a manner every day. 

teachable moment

we were coming in from recess on thursday, and we saw a baby brown bat curled up on the wall as we walked in. the kids got so excited, that i went to the library and got out a few books about bats. we spent the next 30 minutes reading about them, and it was a lot of fun being able to take something random that we ran into and make a fun lesson about it :)

management pains

Classroom management has been an increasing struggle each day this week. The first week, I am now realizing, allowed for such good behavior because the students were excited and eager to please. Now, as they develop friendships with each other and have a better sense of community, the chatter and lack of focus on the task at hand is increasing. It seems that our positive reinforcement of good behavior isn’t enough to keep them focused on what they should be doing anymore. We introduced one negative consequence this week, called a “boo-hoo room 82” which resulted in one minute off of recess. For some reason, this didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Is it because we haven’t introduced classroom rules yet?
Are there not enough individual consequences and too much group reinforcement/punishment? I am really interested in studying the behavior of my students and seeing as time goes on what is going to work. Maybe this method of management won’t work for our group of kids when it would have worked with another group. Or maybe it’s just an adjustment period and the students will fall into a routine and learn the appropriate behaviors eventually. They are good kids, but it’s just the little interruptions that can take up so much time away from instruction. I want to be able to say that we don’t have to spend the majority of our time using verbal prompts to keep up appropriate behavior. I guess only time will tell, but I’m excited to find out!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

line leading - harder than it seems!

During the first week of school, I found that I had many more responsibilities than I thought I would right off the bat. One of the most thought-provoking experiences of my week was taking the class through the halls to lunch, specials, or recess. I completed this task probably six times by myself and a few times with my mentor. Cheryl showed from the first day what she expected from her students as they walked in the hallways. She used a lot of praise and positive reinforcement but also would stop the students in the hallway if her expectations were not met. I learned a lot from watching her and tried to use many of the same management strategies that she did during walks through the hallways.
            When I would pick up the class or take the class somewhere, I tried a few different management strategies. An effective strategy that both Cheryl and I used was the call-and-response of “Ducks in a row” “Quack, quack, quack quack.” This was fun for the students and insured that they were paying attention. Another prompt that I would use while walking was to tell the students to be looking at the head of the person in front of them. I stopped them at several “checkpoints” each time and had them check themselves for the way they were behaving and standing. One time, I had to pick them up in the lunchroom where it was very noisy. I got their attention by using the prompt, “If you can hear my voice clap once, etc.” I walked down the line to make sure everyone could hear me and waited for their attention. When they did walk quietly and respectfully through the halls, I would smile, give a thumbs up, or give verbal praise. Often, I would publicly compliment them to Cheryl once we got back in the classroom. Even though it sounds simple, it was challenging to lead a line through the hallways. I was never sure if I should be leading the line, or turning around to check on them, or standing more in the middle of the line to have a better check on behavior. It was also difficult to manage the students because they would get distracted, start running, or be too loud in the hallways. I didn’t want to raise my voice in the hallways to prompt them, because that would be a little counterintuitive. This is where Cheryl’s strategy of checkpoints became helpful. When they stopped and lined up against the wall, it was easier to remember what the appropriate behavior in the hallway was. I think that it will be helpful for me to practice leading lines of my students through the hallways and that I will find even more effective strategies as time goes on.

what to do when they just keep saying no? - reflections

What can you do when a student just continually says no? How can you keep the rest of the class on task while dealing with his behavior in a discreet, professional way, while also maintaining the respect you have built up for yourself as a teacher in your classroom? A child in my class has proven to have some difficulties this first week, showing stubborn and oppositional behavior that can sometimes turn violent. His peers have shaky relationships with him, and as a teacher, I struggle to remain positive in the face of his defiance. The student has ADHD, and his parents are unsure about medication at this particular time. We can’t get him to concentrate on any academic subject or activity, and he will not sit still for more than ten seconds before he gets up and walks around the room. I wonder how I would manage this situation if I were the sole teacher in the classroom. To call the principal each time there was an issue would mean that he/she was in my classroom all day long. Discussions with the parents would, of course, be necessary, but tact would make it difficult to describe the depth of the difficulty of his behavior. I don’t know what to do in this situation, or what I would do if this were my own classroom. Hopefully as my relationship with this student grows, we will be able to come up with a behavior plan and work with each other to make the classroom environment more conducive to learning.

i had a wet fart

Second day of school, the last thing I thought I'd be dealing with is an 'accident' just before library. Nonetheless, I was able to keep a straight face when my little friend told me quietly that he'd had a "wet fart" and needed to change his clothes. An awkward trip to the nurse fixed the problem, but I've been the laughingstock of the PDS community since then!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

who is ms. allen?

First day of school over and I'm already starting to realize that I have to start answering to Ms. Allen. Our class is boisterous and spunky and fun-loving. The day went fast and I felt almost like I was falling into a rhythm that seemed so familiar. No, I haven't been a teacher before, but from working with big groups of kids all summer I've started to learn the simple tricks of the trade when it comes to teaching. My nerves were unnecessary, or at least should be preserved for a later date when something much more ominous looms ahead of me. It was such a joy to watch their faces as Cheryl did a read-aloud. I took pages of notes just on the first day on all of her management techniques and community-building activities. I was also able to get a great picture of the class that will be sent out in next week's newsletter to the parents! Anne told me that there was a web of a student teacher's life and that we'll go through stages, from nervousness to excitement to being overwhelmed to depression, etc..... Hopefully things will keep going smoothly :)

this is my desk!!

Monday, August 30, 2010

is this how everyone feels?

I am panicking! First day of school is tomorrow, who knows what will happen. When you put 20 unique kids and 2 unique teachers in a classroom, there are any of a million possibilities. Of course I know what I'm doing, I know how to teach, how to get kids' attention, how to keep them focused, all the principles of teaching. But what about the practice? Hopefully practice makes perfect. Pics to follow of my outfit tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

bustin a move in CI 405!

An 11 year old girl came and taught us this routine, and we used the video and the StudioCode software to analyze our performance, create codes and timelines, and learn how to analyze videos! As well as becoming comfortable with being on camera :D We'll be filmed a lot during teaching!

Pencil sharpening

I have two blister-welts on my hand from manually sharpening 24 pencils. Can anyone say grunt work? But it's a lot of fun. I got to see and work in my 3rd grade classroom with Cheryl. I put up backing paper for the bulletin boards, put up borders, wrote the student's names on their books, etc. I have such a curiosity of what each child will look like and be like based on just the 20 or so letters of their names. Tomorrow I'll get to find out! Open house is from 10-1...(i think) and hopefully i'll look something like this...^^^^^

ctinasays - i feel like a real person!